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Friday, July 7, 2017





Friday, 8:30 AM.  63 degrees F at both the ferry dock and on the back porch.  Wind variable and calm, the humidity 82%.  The sky is partly cloudy, with a few black storm clouds. Highs today will be in the high 60's, warming tomorrow, then cooling down again on Sunday with chances of thunderstorms.  Next week is predicted to have highs in the mid-60's, with mixed skies and a chance of rain on Wednesday. 
   The red elderberry Sambucus pubens, in the Honeysuckle Family, is not nearly as well known as the common American elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, as it is a more northern species (it also is an important part of the western montane flora).  It is almost as attractive in flower as the American elderberry, the minute flowers occurring in more compact, cone-shaped umbels than the umbrella-like compound flowers of American elderberry.  And whereas the fruit of the latter species is blue-black and edible, the the fruit of the former is bright red and also edible, although it is quite acid to the taste; it is somewhat peppery, and I rather like it.  Both species are good for jams and jellies and are also important wildlife plants, both for browse and for their fruits. The red elderberry prefers wet locations but will grow on drier sites, and on a variety of soils.  It is fairly shade tolerant but prefers full sun. Unlike the American or European elderberry, the fruits of which are juicy, the red elderberry is not good for juice or wine.
    There is some evidence that leaves, stems and roots of both species can be poisonous to humans, but I doubt people would eat those parts so it is not much of a concern, but it might be best not to put leaves or stems in one's mouth without some experimentation.    
Elderberry plants have medicinal properties, and were used in a variety of ways by both Native Americans and European settlers.  The central pith of stems and branches is very soft and can easily be removed to make whistles, straws and other useful objects, and were so used in the past.  
   Both American and red elderberry are attractive in flower and fruit, as are their pinnately compound leaves.  The feather-compound leaf of the American elderberry has seven leaflets, that of the red elderberry five. Both species spread by root suckers and are hard to control in the smaller landscape.  My rule of thumb is, appreciate them in nature and where they can be controlled, but be careful introducing them into the home landscape.   A case in point is the red elderberry that I have in the backyard.  It grew up between the crevices of a small rock wall and it was so persistent I finally decided that I would let it grow and make use of it rather than to unsuccessfully try to eliminate it, and it is now huge.  For a further discussion of elderberries, use the blog search engine.

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